Cyprus: Powder Keg No More?
Gani, Martin, The World and I
Martin Gani, a British freelance writer of Turkish Cypriot origin who is based in Italy, writes on culture, travel, and the arts.
In the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), life is no bed of roses--and the anguish there is creating a popular groundswell pressuring political leaders to consider some kind of "union" with Greek Cyprus on the eve of the Greek side's accession to European Union membership. Turkish Cyprus' standard of living, as measured by salaries, is but half to a third of that in the Greek-dominated, internationally recognized southern portion of Cyprus. The economy of Turkish Cyprus, barely surviving a three-decade UN trade embargo, grew by an infinitesimal 2.43 percent between 1995 and 2001.
In June 2003, inflation stood at 70 percent in the north against 2.74 percent in the south. The number of unemployed on the Turkish side of the island which has a third of the population of the southern area, rose by an alarming 21 percent between April 2002 and April 2003. This is but the latest installment in the economic and political strife tormenting the Turkish Cypriots, who, unsurprisingly, have been steadily emigrating from their beloved Mediterranean island for the last 40 years.
In February 2003, a singular photo exhibition, titled "No to the Emigration of Our Youth," was held in the Turkish part of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, to highlight this painful phenomenon. The photos showed young Turkish Cypriots living abroad. As grandparents, parents, relatives, and friends paraded before them, many couldn't hold back their tears. In the last 30 years, 55,000 Turkish Cypriots, more than a quarter of the current northern population, left the island to get an education, find work, and secure a better life elsewhere. I was one of them and flew to England in 1975. I'd just turned 18.
The exhibition was organized by a women's association headed by Oya Talat, who opened the event with a heartfelt speech aimed at the Turkish politicians in Nicosia and Ankara and their policies, which keep the island split by an unnatural political divide. "We hope," she said, "that these photos will reach the eyes and ears of those responsible for our youth going to foreign lands. We all know the only way to reverse this tendency is a political solution and peace on our island."
The youth exodus was referred to by a local newspaper soon after. "In the last 10 years," it said, "38 percent of families 'lost' a member to emigration." In a society where family ties are strong as steel and last a lifetime, this was indeed bad news.
TURKS AND GREEKS IN TURMOIL
Ottoman Turks wrested Cyprus from Venice in 1571 and governed it till 1878, when it was leased to Britain. The Ottoman Empire was dissolved after World War I, and Cyprus became a full British colony.
Turkey and Greece clashed over Cyprus only in recent history. The Enosis (union) movement, founded in 1930s, fought the British, and in 1955 a violent Greek Cypriot terrorist organization, EOKA, led by Costas Grivas, began a guerrilla war against the British. Turkish Cypriots responded with a similar, opposing organization, TMT.
In 1956, Turkey declared Cyprus an extension of Turkey. In June 1958, civil disorders and violence surged on the island, and Turkey and Greece, both NATO allies, would have gone to war, had it not been for U.S. intervention. In 1964, at the height of the civil war provoked by Makarios' decision to change the constitution, Turkey sent in warplanes, and invasion was believed imminent. Again, thanks to U.S. diplomacy, war between Greece and Turkey was avoided. It was also in this year that the United Nations sent in a peacekeeping force that is still there.
In 1960, Britain granted the territory independence, and the Republic of Cyprus was born. A joint Turkish-Greek government was set up. Turkey, Greece, and Britain assumed responsibility to guarantee sovereignty and safeguard the constitution of the newborn republic. …